By Richard K. Morgan
First Published: 2002
UK Hardback Cover Illustration: Chris Moore
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller, Noir Mystery, Biopunk
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan knocked my socks off! This was the novel that managed to get me back into science fiction after a decade hiatus where I eschewed SF for classical literature, police novels, and books on ancient history. An old friend recommended Altered Carbon and I replied that I wasn’t reading SF much anymore because I was burned out on it and was disappointed with how much poor quality writing I ran into. He swore this novel was different so I finally agreed to read it. Boy was I glad I did! At the time, I happened to be reading hard boiled crime novels. Altered Carbon was perfect because it combined a gritty noir story with an exciting futuristic premise, and had high quality writing to boot! Just like that, I was back into Science Fiction and I’ve been finding that this genre has more to offer now than ever.
Altered Carbon is Richard Morgan’s first published novel. It’s one of the best debut novels I’ve read, make that one of the most fun novels period. Morgan brought in a new hard hitting style with a future that manages to deliver exciting new wonders along with all the problems in current society magnified in not unexpected ways. He invented some great futuristic terms in this book which really enhance a slick new style. Chief among these terms is “re-sleaving” which provides the underlying differences between Morgan’s future and the present as well as the key to the central mystery of the story. Re-sleaving is the ability to download a person’s self awareness into a new body. Morgan explores all the implications of this new technology with particular emphasis on the disparity between the rich and the poor which has only become greater now that the rich have become essentially eternal.
The plot in Altered Carbon comes right out of a traditional noir mystery but is complicated enough to keep you guessing. The lead character is a terrific anti-hero with a well developed, interesting background. Character development is not really the strong suit of this novel but is more than made up for with the intense and varied action. The violence is brutal and, at times, extreme. If you prefer your violence toned down, this is not the book for you. There’s also some fairly graphic sex and plenty of off colored language.
If you’re up for some intense, graphic, noir science fiction, don’t bother reading any more reviews. Order Altered Carbon now! Just don’t start reading this novel when you’ve promised your spouse to get some things done around the house. Because once you start, you won’t be able to put it down.